I can tell you that after being a believer for most of my life, it was a good four decades before I even knew about these appointed times. Once I learned of them (firsthand, through YHWH’s own words through reading the Bible for myself), I felt an immediate compulsion to walk in obedience to the Father and keep them, but knowing how to do that is something else entirely.
My goal in this article is to walk you through the Day of Atonement, share how it has often been understood historically, and what the traditional observance looks like. Then, I’m going to challenge you to see if tradition lines up with YHWH’s Word. From there, I’m going to share how I keep the Day of Atonement. Bear in mind, we are all still learning and we are all works in progress – I am no different. If I can look back, ten years from now, and honestly say that I haven’t grown deeper in my understanding of this day, then I have failed. We serve a God of endless wisdom and following Him, then, should have us a state of constantly growing in that wisdom.
You will recall that YHWH has 7 appointed times, 8 if you count the recurring weekly Sabbath. Further, these feasts are generally separated into the Spring Feasts (taking place at the start of our year) and the Fall Feasts (taking place in the fall), which is the season we are rapidly entering at the time of writing. The first fall feast is the Day of Trumpets. It’s one of the simplest Holy Days to keep as we are commanded to blow trumpets, shout, or otherwise make a joyful noise unto the Father. This feast foretells the time when we will hear shofars and look to the sky to see Yeshua returning. Hallelujah! You can read about how to observe Trumpets by clicking here.
The second Fall appointed time is The Day Of Atonement or Yom Kippur. This Holy day foretells of the time, after Messiah’s return, when judgment will be passed on the earth.
So how do we observe this day? We begin by looking in our instruction book. Leviticus 23 is always my starting point when it comes to instructions for the appointed times of YHWH. In Leviticus 23:26-32 we find:
26 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 27 “Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the Lord. 28 And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. 29 For whoever is not afflicted on that very day shall be cut off from his people. 30 And whoever does any work on that very day, that person I will destroy from among his people. 31 You shall not do any work. It is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. 32 It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict yourselves. On the ninth day of the month beginning at evening, from evening to evening shall you keep your Sabbath.”
There is a lot to glean from here. First of all, we always check the text to find out if an appointed time is a Sabbath. Is this a day we aren’t supposed to work? In this case, we see that, yes, it certainly is. Secondly, we see in verse 27 that the Day Of Atonement is on the tenth day, but in verse 32 we are specifically told that we begin observing it on the evening of the ninth day until the evening of the tenth day. While there is some argument over this (as there is with all things these days), Biblically we will see that the day begins in the evening. Therefore the tenth begins at sundown on the ninth, as is the case here.
Now, what are our instructions?
- Have a holy convocation
- Afflict ourselves
- Make a food offering to YHWH
So at this point, many believers would read that and say, “We can’t make offerings, we don’t have a temple!” and then that would be all the excuse they needed to throw up their hands and walk away- BUT NOT US.
Because: WHEN IT COMES TO OUR FATHER, WE NEVER LET WHAT WE CAN’T DO PREVENT US FROM DOING WHAT WE CAN
So it is true that we do not have a temple on earth now. Sure, we have temples, synagogues, and churches galore, but the Father has only physically resided in two places on earth throughout history and those were His temples. He tells us that He will again reside on earth once His third temple is is in place. Until then, He has no permanent dwelling place with us other than through us.
This is important because in Deuteronomy 12 we see the following:
Be careful not to offer your burnt offerings in just any place you see; 14you must offer them only in the place the LORD will choose. – Deut 12:13
So we have been commanded not to make sacrifices or bring offerings unless YHWH designates a place for such. Now some will say that we will never do this again because the time of sacrifices and offerings has been done away with. These are usually well intentioned and YHWH loving folks who are going by what they’ve been taught, but are unaware of what God actually says about it. Ezekiel is a great place to get caught up where you will read about sacrifices and offerings made in the millennial kingdom. The prophets Isaiah, Zechariah, and Jeremiah also made reference to these in the future tense as well.
Now, let us talk about a Holy convocation. This is generally understood to mean a gathering with likeminded believers. Does this mean you have to go to church? No, but you can. Assembling with like minded believers in someone’s living room or back yard is every bit as good. However, if you are a member of a church that is beginning to keep the Holy days, I do encourage you to support their efforts whenever possible.
What if you don’t know of any likeminded believers? This could just as easily be your family, if they are believers it fits the definition of a holy convocation.
But what if you truly have no one?
In that case, you remember our rule of obedience: When it comes to the Father, never let what you can’t do prevent you from doing what you can. So if a Holy convocation is not possible for you this year, let us move on to the next one because that one is most assuredly possible for each of us and in our time is quite possibly the most important.
You shall afflict yourselves…
Now, I’d venture to say that if you asked most people who keep the Day of Atonement what you are supposed to do they will tell you that it is a day of fasting. But is that what YHWH said?
Actually, rather than seeing fasting mentioned in the text, we see a command to afflict yourself. Over the centuries, afflicting yourself has come to be understood as fasting, and there is nothing wrong with with fasting on this day. However, if I all I did was fast, I would have missed out on the purpose and blessing of this Holy day, and it is vital that we consider the purpose of the Day of Atonement.
Now if you’ve read my article on the Biblical Feast Days, you know that each appointed time tells us of a historical event and also foretells an event yet to come. Historically, (verse) This is the day that the high priest would enter into the holy of holies and atone for the sins of Israel. As for the future, this appointed time foretells of the future event in which Yeshua will return and judge the world.
Take a moment to imagine what that day will feel like. I’m not talking about the day He returns when we shout and rejoice, I’m talking about after that, when the time has come for Yeshua to pass judgement on the entire world, us included. Bet that made you sit up straight.
Likewise, this is a day of solemn reflection where we consider our sins, the mercy we have been given, and how we can grow and serve the father better in the year ahead. Is fasting helpful to this? I’m sure it can be. But if all you did was fast and other than that went about your day, it would seem you’ve missed the point.
The Day of Atonement is a very solemn day and there is soul work to be done as we evaluate how we’ve traveled the path to this point and what we want to do differently going forward. This is a time to consider how our sin has grieved our father’s heart and to allow our heart to grieve as a result.
But tragically, some replace this important, necessary, and commanded yearly self evaluation with tradition, using fasting as a box to check off so that they can consider the day observed and be done with it. This is often taught as well.
The first time we kept the day of atonement I was told that in order to keep it, I had to fast all day and then wear all white to a big fellowship supper that night. I was entirely new to the appointed times and this confused me because I did not see that in the Bible.
Needless to say, I spent that day focusing on food and how much white I lacked in my wardrobe. Are either of those in the Bible? Nope. Is it wrong to do either of those? Nope. Is it wrong to give that as a shortcut to someone new who asks you how to keep Yom Kippur? Well, I see it as similar to inviting someone to a banquet and giving them a plate, but no food. Technically they have the ability to take part but they are missing out on the best part (and the refinement that comes as a result).
So how do I observe the Day of Atonement as a believer in Jesus/Yeshua in our time?
On Yom Kippur I do inventory, I ask the Father to turn on all of the lights and help me to give an honest evaluation of my life, my heart, my intent, my words, and my very soul. Where have I fallen short in the previous year? How have I focused on splinters but avoided my own beams? How have I not loved those He put into my path to love? Where are my golden calves? Where is my strange fire?
Believe me, to spend an entire day going over these things, seeking His help on letting my past sins go and clearing my plate in order to move forward and serve Him better in the year ahead is most assuredly afflicting myself. However, the day ends with the assurance that I have been atoned for, that this day has come because He is working on me, refining me, and drawing me closer still to Him. I know that, despite my shortcomings, the Father has a purpose for me – as He does for you.
As we reflect on the grace and mercy He has shown us, and bring our repentant hearts before Him, seeking His guidance and His transformative power in our lives, we can praise our Father for our forgiveness, give thanks for our atonement, and know that we are, slowly but surely, making our way home to eternity with Him.
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